It is illegal in Los Angeles county and throughout California to wear a mask or disguise in the process of committing a crime.
You don't really see this Penal Code Section charged very often because usually the prosecutors just charge the underlying crime, but they are permitted to charge California Penal Code Section 185 if they can show that somebody committed a crime and while they were committing that crime they tried to disguise their identity.
Another angle that they can use this Penal Code Section is if after a crime is committed, the person – in order to hide their identity – puts on some sort of a disguise.
A lot of places where I see this is where people are committing robberies of various locations and they will come in with a ski mask, or I had one case where someone came in with one of those Scream masks from that movie. I've had other cases where people put disguises on when they commit the crime, all in the effort to make sure that they cannot be identified during or after the crime. This is where the Penal Code Section snaps in.
Defenses To PC 185 – Wearing A Mask Or A Disguise
One defense is you're not really wearing any type of a mask or disguise. This defense would probably be asserted if somebody was not wearing a mask, obviously, but had glasses on or something else that the prosecutors were trying to claim was used to disguise their face.
Obviously, the other defense would be that you're not the one who committed the crime or that you weren't committing a crime at the time.
A lot of this is fact-driven, meaning it's going to depend on the facts of the particular criminal case that you're charged with, whether or not you're committing a crime or wearing some sort of a mask or disguise.
The obvious reasoning behind people wearing masks and disguises when they commit crimes is so that none of the witnesses can identify them who are there when the time is committed, and a lot of locations now have video.
So, when people go and commit crimes, if they're wearing a mask, they figure that the video will capture them, but by wearing a mask or disguise they can avoid this.
This does not always work out because a lot of what I'm seeing now is when people are committing robberies and wearing a mask or disguise, the police are picking other things on their clothes that can identify them.
I've seen many people – once the police get hot on their trail – execute a search warrant for their house – they'll take all their clothes and everything to try to match it up with the person who is supposedly committing the robbery.
The more things they can match, the more circumstantial evidence they can put together to show the person is the person wearing the mask or disguise and violated Penal Code Section 185, and they will charge them with robbery if that's the case as well.
Witness Identification in Penal Code 185 Cases
Another big thing that law enforcement does when people wear masks or disguises to commit a crime is they will be looking at the height of the person, the weight of the person; they will ask witnesses to see if they can identify their voice.
I've done live line-ups before where the police ask each of the six people in the live line-up to say some sort of a phrase – usually it's a phrase that might have been used during the course of the robbery.
So, if someone wears a mask or disguise to commit a crime, it's not necessarily going to be true that they're not going to be able to be identified. The police have all kinds of ways to identify them.
Another thing they'll do is get fingerprint experts, DNA experts. I've had a lot of these robbery cases where people were wearing masks when they came in and ended up touching something and they got DNA, so the combination of DNA, the person's height or weight matching, if someone can match a voice – this is what it comes down to in these cases where people are wearing masks and disguises.
So, if you're charged with a crime and there's an identification issue in the crime because they obviously don't have your face during the course of the robbery – you want to come and sit down with somebody like me.
Determining Defense Strategy in Penal Code 185 Cases
I'll look at all the circumstantial evidence that they have and then we'll make the determination of whether they can really prove that you were involved in this particular crime. A lot of times the police and the prosecutors have problems with charging people with Penal Code Section 185 if they can't identify that they're the actual person.
They're going to need to go in and execute search warrants. If they can find the mask and identify the mask with the person, combined with other evidence, then they might be able to prove this Penal Code Section 185 violation and charge the person with the other underlying crime.
So, it really just depends on the evidence in the case and it's something you need to discuss with your criminal defense attorney. I get you in, we go over everything. We lay out what evidence they have and what evidence they don't have.
Then we have to make an educated guess as to whether or not you could actually win the case at a jury trial. I've been doing this since from twenty-five years, have over 200 jury trials, so that helps in kind of getting a feel for what the prosecutors could prove in a Penal Code Section 185 violation where they're claiming you were wearing a mask during the course of some sort of a crime.
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